New Orleans Streetcars

Growing up in New Orleans riding streetcars, I realized it was not just a mode of transportation so much as an experience; riding in a historic trolley while taking in a scenic view of an incredibly historical city. The New Orleans trolley is the oldest operating railway system in the world and began in the first half of the 19th century.  As a child, I recall the vintage streetcars colored olive green and windows outlined in red. Each car had huge white numbers indicating to what part of town they were headed. And you could always hear them coming blocks away. Slow but steady, the streetcars didn’t exactly follow a schedule, one just hoped for the best while taking in the scenery. It was a bonus if the streetcar did not arrive at stops on time, that meant more to see – BUT pack your patience.

 A bargain at $1.25 and a transfer, you can view the entire city due to the many varied streetcar lines offered all over the city.  This slow-moving style of transportation included slats of wide, wooden seats. There were huge windows for each passenger and the best way to truly see this charming city. I recall in the 1970’s seats rotated back and forth so you could be riding backwards and forwards while sharing the ride with two strangers staring in front of you. That could be a blessing or a curse, but I always looked at it like a fabulous new experience. Back in the day when newspapers were popular, many working people used streetcar time to catch up on the news. Be prepared that arrival and departure times are totally unpredictable, kind of like my city, but take the magical city in. Breathe in the smell of sweet olive and magnolias while huge oak trees and historical sites await you. As an option, buses do exist, but not nearly as romantic as a streetcar ride.

Currently, the iconic streetcars are a classy lipstick red but with all the same vintage accouterments:  original mahogany seats decorated with brass fittings. In retrospect, I feel so blessed that I rode the streetcar to school each day.  Without even realizing it, I was absorbing the most incredible architecture in every part of town. Riding the historic St. Charles streetcar, you will see stunning 1870’s Victorian mansions surrounded by immense moss-covered live oak trees. Buildings of all types are opulent and unique. It will truly blow your mind. On the Uptown line, you are experiencing a living nineteen block museum of homes. Grand ironwork fences of every design hug and protect these mansions. Believe it or not, you will find yourself wishing the streetcar had a longer route so you can take it all in. What a slow but gorgeous ride!

Streetcar sounds are the best part. The grinding, the air compressor and the screeching brakes are all part of the experience of this ride. Most are now air-conditioned but those gigantic windows do open wide and even during the summers of New Orleans, breezes are preserved for passengers. Remember you are moving on a national monument.  

There is a line where you can ride the streetcar and visit the cemeteries of New Orleans. These tombs of the dead are truly stunning works of art and there is nothing like it anywhere. Society Tombs, Tombs of the Dead, wall vaults and crypts await while the streetcar allows tours of this part of town called “Cities of the Dead.”

The Red Canal streetcar is the best way to see the city.  Forget a car, this is the transportation for any visitor or local to use. There are five streetcar routes to use while you explore Uptown, Downtown, the French Quarter and so many other historical parts of the city. Also, you can explore the Riverfront; St. Charles; Canal Cemeteries; City Park/Museum and Rampart/St. Claude lines. The St. Charles Avenue line is always air-conditioned, a welcome bonus in summer New Orleans. The streetcars on St. Charles Avenue are vintage and completely unaltered. They are registered landmarks. The vintage red streetcars also take you to Frenchman Street, a hub of incredible jazz and art. You never know what well-known singer will appear in a nightclub. It could be Jon Batiste!

When you hear your stop announced by the conductor, just pull the line above the seats and the car always stops. It’s nice for the conductor if you pull it a bit in advance, this huge moving landmark cannot stop on a dime. Savor this magical city while riding the New Orleans streetcars at the same time. More history than you can ever imagine awaits!